Albany Restaurant Week Gets Weird
Do you hear that sound? It’s me banging my head against the wall. I think I’ve said before that Restaurant Week is broken. But this Spring’s version takes the cake.
Here’s the rundown. There are seventeen restaurants participating. Of those, five are fine dining. Six of the remaining twelve I would consider to be actual restaurants (and even those include The Albany Pump Station and The Merry Monk which some might fairly call taverns). But over a third of the field is taverns.
Now there is nothing wrong with taverns. I love them. I think they are one of the things that make the Capital Region special. But when price is held constant, as it is in restaurant week, is a three-course tavern menu really going to draw people downtown? And why would one go to places like Katrinella’s or The Merry Monk, which are beloved for their everyday reasonable prices, during this limited time promotion?
However, this is just par for the course. It’s quite similar to the criticism I’ve levied in the past. But the Downtown Albany BID needs to get a handle on things, because there are a few new twists that have clearly gone too far.
Legend’s on Pearl is straying from the pack.
Instead of offering three courses for $20.12 they are trying to undercut everyone else by offering a choice of one appetizer and two entrees for $15.12. Okay, sure that’s a great deal. But what exactly does it have to do with restaurant week?
Speaking of undercutting the competition, three restaurants are offering their three-course restaurant week menu at an even lower price for students on Monday. That would be $15.12 with the restaurant most likely unable to make up their check total in wine or beer sales. I can kind of understand why V&R Italian Ristorante and La Serre might take part in this, but I’m surprised to see Jack’s Oyster House willing to further undercut the value of their food even just for one night.
Perhaps the logic of courting students is that if a restaurant can curry favor with them now, they can capture a larger share of pricey graduation dinners or meals with parents in the future. It seems like a long shot to me.
But back to wine and beer for just a minute. Marché is doing something unusual. In lieu of one of their appetizers you can choose instead one of two beers or a glass of merlot. And for dessert, nestled among the homemade sweets are options of port or a “hot nutty Irishman coffee.”
An Irish Coffee is a traditional cocktail from back in the days when racial slurs and innuendos were charming and somehow worked their way into our more sensitive modern lexicon. Now, nobody thinks twice about Scotch tape or a paddy wagon. But a “Hot nutty Irishman?” Please. Just stop. Forget cultural sensitivity for a moment. It’s both an insult to coffee and to cocktails. Really.
The appetizer glass of beer is interesting. I can only imagine the dinner conversation.
“How’s your salad, darling?”
“Delightful, thank you, and your beer?”
“It’s good, but I’m really hungry.”
And this is at one of the “better” restaurants that someone actually interested in food might consider visiting. The five big restaurants that are playing this round are Taste, Marché, Jack’s Oyster House, Café Capriccio, and The Brown Derby. Some might argue for La Serre and maybe ten years ago they might have had a point.
The Marché menu is disjointed at best, and I can’t find my way to a good meal there. Jack’s offers you the chance to try Chef Larry’s Chicken Neopolitan, but locks you into a salad and bread pudding. Sorry, Jack’s, but I like to have at least one alternative choice (and I am no fan of salad). The Brown Derby seems to have gone off a cliff with two of their four appetizers built upon potato chips. Desserts there as usual come entirely from the insanely overrated Villa Italia. Café Capriccio is phoning it in with the same damn appetizers they have every restaurant week, all of them cold. Still, eating the out-of-season tomatoes and mozzarella is a small price to pay for ordering one their enticing main dishes. Capriccio’s wood-fired oven-roasted porchetta or their famous eggplant with four cheeses are promising.
Taste seems to be the only restaurant that recognizes that despite being early spring, we are still in late winter. Their crab salad, followed by a crispy red snapper and an unusual Guinness crème brûlée with Baileys whipped cream, sounds like a steal for the price.
La Serre doesn’t seem to know if it’s French or Italian.
V&R on the other hand, knows precisely that it’s all Italian all the time. And while it may be a little bit pricier than I’d like the rest of the year, Restaurant Week could be a great excuse to give this place a try. Especially with standard-bearer classics like Eggplant Rollatini to start, and entrées like Linguini with Red or White Clam Sauce, Calamari Marinara, Calamari Fra Diavolo, and Chicken Parmesan, it would be hard to choose. If their Tiramisu and Cannoli weren’t good, I’d never have to come back, but at least I could say I tried.
So this season we’re down to just two Fussy Approved options: Taste and V&R.
If I ran the Downtown Albany BID I would remake restaurant week from the ground up. It would focus on our best restaurants, which should include dp, Yono’s and Prime. Prices might have to go up, and that’s okay. Because quality would too. All menus would require choices per course, and need to be approved by the BID. And to make it all special, this would happen just one time per year.
There can be a more casual version of restaurant week for the taverns and beer halls. But the BID should be putting the city’s best foot forward. And while it’s nice to have a long list of participating establishments, the participating establishments aren’t all that nice.
Sorry. But it’s true. Let’s highlight Albany’s best.
Hey, speaking of The Best, the polls at the Times Union close at noon on Friday. If you’ve been holding out on voting for the FUSSYlittleBALLOT 3.0 the time is now. Don’t forget, the ultimate plan is to improve the Capital Region and you can help. If you’ve already voted, send an email to all your friends and family asking for their support. Together we can make this happen.